Toyota is expanding its hot Prius hybrid car line with a new, smaller urban-based model. The sporty 2012 Toyota Prius C (for “city”) gas/electric four-door hatchback is aimed at young urban couples. It’s expected to be the “gateway” car to larger, costlier members of the Prius family.
The compact Prius C could have been partially inspired by the late British genius car designer Colin Chapman, who won international race championships by making his Lotus cars as light as possible.
So it is with the Prius C, based on the Toyota Yaris platform. Automakers are happy to chop just 50 pounds from a car for better fuel efficiency and handling. But the 2,496-pound Prius C weighs about 550 pounds less than the standard Prius.
The result? Estimated fuel economy of 53 miles per gallon in the city and 46 on highways. The lighter weight also results in crisp handling.
Toyota says the Prius C is a “fun and free-spirited” eco-minded car. I found during a test drive on Florida roads at a Prius C media preview in Delray Beach, Fla., the car has nicely geared steering, sharp handling, good brake pedal feel and offers a good ride on smooth roads.
There were no rough roads on the drive, so I can’t comment on how the new car’s suspension reacts to bad pavement. But it should be comfortable on such pavement because it was designed a lot for urban roads, which often are in bad shape.
Net horsepower of the the Prius C’s hybrid system is rated at 99 with its 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine and battery pack. It’s no fireball, but its low weight helps allow its gas engine and battery pack to provide decent merges into highway traffic and acceptable 65-75 mph passing, without much powertrain noise.
There are two driving modes: ECO and EV. The ECO mode maximizes fuel savings across all driving conditions. The EV mode helps keep the Prius C in electric-only mode longer at low speeds. Toyota says that, under certain conditions, the car can go approximately 25 mph for up to about one-half mile—or possibly longer depending on vehicle and battery conditions. The engine’s fuel tank has a 9.5-gallon capacity.
One can spend a lot of time with the gamelike monitor screen displays. For instance, the “ECO Savings Record” can display the fuel cost or fuel cost savings over a comparison vehicle for the current, past three months and year-ago month.
Efficient packaging allows decent room for four tall occupants, and there’s strategically placed sound-absorbing materials for a quiet cockpit. Front seats provide good support. The dashboard has lots of plastic, but it has a nice texture that prevents it from looking cheap. However, the material covering the inside doors looks marginal.
A newly designed heat exchanger allows improves heater performance, reducing time to warm air.
The Prius C body is highly aerodynamic, and the car has an impressive bunch of cleverly engineered smaller, lighter components, compared to the standard Prius hatchback, including the engine and battery pack.
A nickel-metal hydride battery has been made more compact and lightweight for installation under the rear seat, helping provide more cargo room and creating a low center of gravity for improved vehicle dynamics. The battery is warranted for 10 years, or 150,000 miles.
Power-robbing and fuel-eating accessory drive belts are eliminated because there’s an electrically driven air conditioning compressor and water pump that reduce mechanical losses. And the Prius C has the most compact and lightest of all Toyota Hybrid System transaxles.
High-tensile steel sheet also helps weight reduction and provides high body rigidity. A lightweight, rigid front body structure helps ensure handling stability, high fuel efficiency and safety.
Safety features include anti-lock brakes, traction control, enhanced vehicle stability control, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and Smart Stop technology that automatically reduces engine power when both pedals are pressed at the same time under certain conditions.
There are four trim levels costing $18,950 to $23,230, excluding a $760 freight charge.
The base “One” model has items including automatic climate control, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, halogen headlights, 4-speaker audio system, steering wheel audio controls and a rear window wiper, along with a Multi-Information Display and single-piece fold-down rear seatback.
The $19,900 ”Two” model adds cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, 60/40 split fold-down rear seatbacks and a 6-speaker audio system. The $21,635 ‘Three” version adds a push-button start and Display Audio with Navigation. And the $23,230 “Four” adds heated and softer trimmed front seats, alloy wheels and fog lamps.
Optional on the Four ae 16-inch alloy wheels with 50-series tires. Other versions have steel or alloy 15-inch wheels and higher-profile 65-series tires.
The opening for the moderately sized cargo area is low and wide, and the split rear seatbacks in my test car sat flat when folded forward to significantly enlarge the cargo area.
The heavy hood is held up with a prop rod to reveal an engine compartment with some hard-to-reach fluid filler areas.
Enlarging the Prius family with the Prius C is a smart move for Toyota because its Prius is one of its top-sellers in America.
Pros: Thrifty. Aerodynamic. Sporty Handling. Fairly roomy. Decently equipped. Clever weight-savings.
Cons: Marginal-looking interior door trim. Gamelike monitor screen displays. Some hard-to-reach fluid filler areas.
Bottom Line: New addition to Prius gas/electric hybrid line makes sense.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com